Monday, October 29, 2012

But didn't exceed authority

My friend and debate partner responded to my post about Obama's power grab. He wrote:
Executive orders do not constitute dictatorship and Obama has in no way exceeded his authority -- if the R's had a case for any of that, they would try to impeach him. [Perhaps these admirable people are saving all that for his second term, as they did unto Bill Clinton.] Executive orders instead administer the Executive Branch, exactly the President's job. They also let the government try out things before they are put into law and regulations. If Congress wants to override an Executive Orders, it is free to legislate on the matters ordered and deal with the President. We have here simply R's complaining about power they do not have and have not earned.

Romney cannot fail to enforce the penalty provisions of the ACA -- the government would be promptly sued and injunctions sought (and won). I also think it unlikely that Romney will be able to repeal it in full.

Finally, I don't think Obama's behavior in using Executive Orders is similar to Bush's and I don't think he has set any new precedents. Its just that conservatives complain about everything. Bush usurped the Constitution via detention and Guantanamo, was fiscally totally irresponsible, etc -- very destructive courses of action.

Swing states

We've been hearing a lot about swing states in this election cycle. The blog Strange Maps has a post (with map, of course) that explains the issue well. The map, alas, doesn't show the swing states in proportion to their Electoral College votes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

In the news

Today's Freep had a "second front page" story about the 100 Houses project I helped with yesterday. (The first front page was about how poorly the Detroit Tigers were doing in the World Series. Enough of that.)

When I went online I also found the web-only story posted on Saturday.

I also found a photo gallery. Annoyingly, the sequence of 20 photos is interrupted three times with ads. Grr!

Investing in the son

Commenter B.D. responded to my post yesterday that included his comment about Romney and voting machines. This time B.D. included a link to his source.

Though I didn't read every word of the article (it is rather lengthy) I didn't find a mention of voting machines. Even so, Romney's "crony capitalism" would lead to more conflicts of interest. After Romney dropped out of the race in 2008 he set his son Tagg up with an investment company and a huge network of people willing to invest.

If Mitt Romney becomes president his assets go into a blind trust. He would supposedly be able to set national policy without knowing how it affects his personal wealth (though I'm skeptical). But Tagg Romney's assets do not. And Tagg is a big part of his father's campaign and would, no doubt, make his views known to his dad the prez.

Of course investors know this. Many are investing precisely because they know this would be a backdoor way to influence gov't policy.

A stunning record

The Detroit Free Press has endorsed Obama for president. Their reasons:

* He has a "stunning" record of accomplishments for his first four years. They give a list of those accomplishments.

* His plan for the next four years "trumps" what Romney has to offer.

* Romney's economic plans are "unbelievable" and a "rehash" of what led to the crash in 2007.

* The appearance of "Moderate Mitt" over the last month means either Romney is pandering or doesn't know who he is. Both possibilities are bad. That is especially troubling in foreign affairs, such as what to do about Iran.

Suspicious hard truths

Sky McCracken, a District Superintendent for the United Methodist Church in Tennessee, wrote an article for the United Methodist Reporter discussing "hard truths" about the future of the denomination. It was written last June, after General Conference. I just found a link to it while cleaning out my email inbox. I won't go through all six of his truths, only the first one.

McCracken says changing the denomination stance on homosexuality won't stop loss of membership. The Southern Baptist Convention, loudly anti-gay, is losing members. The Episcopal Church, loudly pro-gay, is also losing members.

Alas, he doesn't supply details of membership loss, and two data points aren't enough to build a statistically valid case.

The issue of homosexuality could still be a big part of the decline. One commenter points out he left the church because of its stance on gays. So the issue could well be that the Christian church as a whole has been so loud and so negative of gay people it affects all denominations no matter their stance on gays. I had previously reported on the high percentage (somewhere in the 90s) of non-Christians who view the church as a whole as anti-gay (though I can't find the post now). So many people seeing the Christian church negatively would affect all denominations, no matter their statements.

Improving the official positions on gays may not improve the fortunes of the UMC. The damage, done by the Christian church as a whole, may have already had its effect and can't be reversed.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Conflict of interest

My post yesterday about being fed up with election coverage actually prompted a comment! I get so few of those (other than from my friend and debate partner). Since many of you read my posts through email and don't visit the site, I am including a bit of the comment in a post to make sure you see it. This is from a friend-of-a-friend who I think is a regular reader. He goes by the moniker B.D. In response to my annoyance of voting machines (with problems of tampering) he wrote:
The electronic voting is even more troubling considering that the Romney family is heavily invested in machines that are being operated in Colorado and Ohio.
I'm sure the GOP has been considering lots of ways to steal the election.

A work day in Detroit

I took part in the 100 Houses event today. The purpose was to board up and clean around vacant houses in Detroit to prevent their use by squatters and drug dealers, thus improving the community and safety of kids walking to school.

This was an idea of Mitch Albom, who got his start in Detroit as a sportswriter for the Freep and has developed into an editorial columnist, radio host, author, writer for plays and film, and one man charity engine. His columns about work missions to Haiti as the Detroit Muscle Crew are touching. I agree with him when his columns are about social issues. The first 100 houses event was held in August and was a great success, especially in terms of community involvement. So Albom organized another one. This time they aimed a bit higher with a goal to board up 150 houses.

Albom is the first to say that boarding up vacant houses is only the first step. It is by no means an ideal solution. Better solutions would be demolition or rehabilitation. It is sad that so many houses in Detroit are vacant and the city (both gov't and general community) doesn't have the money to renovate or demolish them. As I've reported before there are 40,000 vacant houses in the city. They mayor said today that he can afford to demolish only 3,000 a year.

Over 600 volunteers gathered at Cody High School (probably the closest Detroit school to my house) to be assigned to teams. I didn't get a shirt because they ran out (no problem, I have plenty). Then came 45 minutes of speechifying, including Albom and the mayor. So it was after 10:15 before the first crews were sent to the waiting vans to take them to their work sites. And it was 11:00 before my team was called.

Our nametags has a list of houses our team was to work on. I was dropped off at the third one on the list. This was the house as we got started.

I ended up cleaning brush and trash from the house next door (also vacant and well trashed on the inside, but not on our list) and we boarding up that one as well. I think my designated team went on down the street to the next house. I stuck around to help clean the site. This is the result.

For many years up to a decade ago I had been involved in the local Paint the Town events which painted homes, including simple outside repair work. So it didn't seem right to not be fixing up these homes. Alas, we simply didn't have the resources for that.

When we finished the first two I found out the construction guys doing the actual boarding work had been given a different list. Our leader looked at the half dozen still standing around and asked if we would be his crew. Sure, why not?

So he drove us a couple streets over (one block west of the Southfield freeway) and set up his workspace in the yard of one the houses. We did that house and another across the street. My job was mostly to carry the pieces of wood once they were cut to the proper size. Yeah, some were the size of doorways and were heavy.

On this street was another crew doing general clean-up and another team actually hanging the wood. A Dumpster in the street was filled quite full. There were seven vacant houses on each side of the street, a rather dismal thought.

The day was about half sunny but cold. The morning temperature was in the mid-40s and above 50 by late afternoon. That's quite a contrast to a couple days ago when I was on my bike and the temp was in the mid 70s.

Once done with the houses in the middle of the block, we moved operations to the corner and finished off one and did two more. A city refuse truck worked its way down the street. It had a crane on it to grab the huge mounds of yard waste, including large tree branches, that had been hauled to the curb.

We got back to the school at about 4:00 where Albom greeted us and offered pizza. That tasted pretty good since we hadn't had lunch (though I did have crackers with me). Hmm, pizza for 600. We were one of the last teams to finish.

It was back at the school that I learned the whole event boarded up over 180 houses. One of my colleagues, the one who transported the sheets of wood, said the school parking lot had stacks of the stuff covering perhaps an acre. Getting a picture of that would have been more interested that all that speechifying.

My team secured 7 houses. Not bad for a day's work. I heard the team boss got to the site at 8:00 (the event started at 9:30), skipped the speeches and did a couple houses all by himself.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mental Break

There was a pretty sunset tonight. A couple pics.

Who decides?

I forget where the debate stands now. Is abortion in the case of rape permissible or not? What about for the health of the mother? That got Bridgette Dunlap of Reality Check wondering. Who gets to decide if a woman is entitled to an abortion? Doctor? Police? Judge? Ethics panel? Insurance administrator? Priest? So could someone explain how this will work?

Power grab

I found that getting a wi-fi broadcaster for the house so that I can read Newsweek on my netbook at the kitchen table will cost $80. That should be a one-time charge. Is it worth it? Or I could buy a Nook or Kindle, but I'd want the color version which runs about $200.

On to the story in Newsweek that caught my attention, this one by Andrew Romano and Daniel Klaidman.

Back in 2011 Obama was apparently stunned by how unwilling the House GOP was to create a deal to raise the debt limit. Hopefully, you remember this wasn't a case of holding out for the best possible deal. Instead it was an effort to deny Obama any sort of victory even if the blew up the gov't and national (and global) economy.

Just a few months before Obama refused to act on important issues, saying he had to work through Congress. But that debt limit crisis showed him that there was no hope of bipartisan solutions and the House wasn't going to play. If anything was going to happen before the end of Obama's first term, he would have to do it by himself.

So his slogan became "We can't wait." By executive order he:

* Declined to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (this and a few others were done before the debt mess).

* Implemented the greenhouse gas regulations the Senate had stalled.

* Issued waivers for No Child Left Behind, but bound states to his own policies that Congress hadn't passed.

* Issued waivers for welfare.

* Made a few "recess" appointments, bypassing Senate confirmation even though the Senate was technically still "in session."

* Announced many provisions of the DREAM act Congress wouldn't pass.

* Started a program to help those with underwater mortgages.

* Eased terms on student loans.

* Took military action in Libya.

When the GOP rages on about how Obama has usurped power and essentially become a dictator, they are right. We progressives raged when Bush II did similar things and Obama is doing it to a much higher degree. Does it make any difference that Obama is doing this power grab on behalf of progressive causes?

Of course, Obama wouldn't have done this if Congress hadn't been its most obstructionist in history. But it leaves a bad precedent. There is now nothing to keep a President Romney from deciding not to enforce the penalty provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

For the record, I was one of many urging Obama to use his executive order to end the ban on gays in the military. The resolution of that through Congress appears to be the last time the prez. and Congress accomplished anything (and happened before the current bunch took office).

Less carbon?

Three years ago Obama pledged a 17% reduction in carbon emissions at the Copenhagen climate conference three years ago. A new study says we are on target to meet that goal by 2020. How?

* More efficient cars, due to regulation and shopping preferences.

* Energy efficient lights and appliances.

* Shift from coal to natural gas in electrical plants along with coming tighter EPA emissions rules (which means reaching the goal is not a sure thing).

I'm setting my alarm clock for Nov. 7

Perhaps a week ago Obama, in his campaign speeches, started using the term "Romnesia" as a way of saying Romney can't remember what position he declared yesterday on any given issue. That is, naturally, too rich to go without comment by wags on the internet, you can see the result here.

But other than that lighthearted moment I've been feeling mighty grumpy about the election. My friend and debate partner remains hopeful (at least the last time we talked). Even so, I'm ready to tune out for the next 11 days. I'm ready to turn off my radio when the daily campaign update is on the news. The reason for the grumpiness:

* Electronic voting and the ability of it to be tampered with is still out there. Sheesh, hadn't we dealt with this back in 2004? This particular story deals with the issue in as it relates to the four marriage equality battles. But it will involve more than that where electronic voting is still in use in battleground states. Bush v. Gore round two as Obama v. Romney?

* Ongoing stories of voter intimidation (alas, I didn't collect links) such as letters sent out in Florida (I believe) telling voters that it is illegal for non-citizens to vote.

* Emails from Washington state saying the lead in the marriage equality battle has shrunk by 10 points (they're still ahead by 4 points) due to nasty ads by the opposition ("Gays are out to git yer kids!"). Of course, the email asks for money. Again.

The whole election feels like a power that is desperate wielding the full force of its might to stay in power. That wielding is in the form of huge amounts of money and huge amounts of lying. I've had enough. Wake me when it's over.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hey, I can propose a solution to everything!

The Sunday Free Press (their nickname is the Freep, which they use as their web domain name) has given its endorsements for the state and county proposals on the ballot two weeks from now.

Proposal 1, a referendum on the Emergency Manager law.

The Freep says to vote yes. There needs to be a way out of financial problems and the previous EM law could come up with solutions either convoluted or unable to be implemented.

I disagree because the law gives too much unchecked power to the EM who too often uses that power to protect the 1% at the expense of the city employees. Negotiation is not a bad thing.

Proposal 2, an amendment to the state constitution to protect collective bargaining.

The Freep says to vote no. Background, drug testing, and criminal checks would be subject to negotiation instead of state law. A great deal of Michigan and state law would be up for litigation. In addition, state and federal law already protects bargaining rights.

I disagree, mostly because of the last point. State and federal bargaining rights are under assault. Just ask Indiana, which cut union power when it became a Right to Work state. And the Michigan legislature was itching to get its hands on that issue when the Gov. told them to cool it. Alas, the Gov. has refused to promise to always veto such bills. Freep columnist Brian Dickerson does a good job of explaining why the unions thought the amendment is necessary, though he is against it.

Proposal 3, an amendment to establish a standard for renewable energy -- 25% by 2025.

The Freep says no. It's a great, well written law, but shouldn't be in the constitution.

I disagree. In that I'm joined by Brian Dickerson. If we can put something as foolish as a ban on gay marriage in the constitution, we can put something as noble as a push to renewable energy.

Proposal 4, an amendment to establish collective bargaining for in-home care workers.

The Freep says no. Again, lots of good things in the proposal, but inappropriate for the constitution. The purpose is too narrow. In addition, it would do little for the workers or the patients and would be a windfall for the union that collects the dues.

I agree.

Proposal 5, an amendment to require a 2/3 majority to raise any tax.

The Freep says no. This would freeze the current tax system. It isn't perfect enough to not need tinkering. Supporters say it would encourage bipartisanship. But it would more likely encourage paralysis.

I agree. California enacted something similar and all that has done is stymie the legislature in trying to get anything done.

Proposal 5, an amendment to require public votes for any international bridge or tunnel.

The Freep says no. This is all about the current bridge owner maintaining his monopoly.

I completely agree.

In summary, I'm voting:
Proposal 1: no.
Proposal 2: yes.
Proposal 3: yes.
Proposal 4: no.
Proposal 5: no.
Proposal 6: no.

On to the county proposals. The Freep understands why the county commissioners created them -- too many scandals around the county executive. However, the proposals were written in haste and all contain flaws. It is better to vote no on the whole batch and ask the commissioners to take the next two years to come up with something better.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Standing straight

Tonight was our annual Dedicated Reconciling United Methodists potluck and program. Much to my delight there were 60 of us, including another member of my own church! That's far different than the dozen or so we get for our monthly inclusive services.

The speaker was Louise Ott. She had been a dynamic pastor in the UMC and even spent time as a district superintendent (in charge of perhaps 50 churches). She made news around the region when she revealed she is lesbian, was in a long-term partnership, and was resigning her UMC job and credentials to be a pastor in a more welcoming denomination. Yes, that long-term relationship meant that for many years (perhaps almost two decades) she was in violation of the denomination's rules.

Louise began her message with Luke 13:10-17. This is the New International Version:
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
As she began to read I knew she would refer to herself as the bent-over woman. And she did. With that as the background she told about why she stayed in the UMC for so long and why she finally left. She then turned to us and thanked us for being the ones to reach out to heal and to straighten. She noted when the leader complained about healing on the Sabbath, he didn't direct his comments to Jesus, but to those in need of healing. Come back to be healed when our traditions permit it. Her whole message was wonderful. Not many sermons get a standing ovation.

Alas, the evening had a bit of sadness to it. I had only a brief time to talk to Jill, the executive director of MFSA (the organization whose board meeting I sat in on this past week), so asked her husband Bob how the rest of the meeting went.

I had heard a bit about this story on Friday, but it didn't play out until Saturday. There was one person on the board who did not like Jill and the work she was doing. This was in spite of a very successful (perhaps most successful) year for MFSA, including all that work around General Conference, and a staff who think she's the greatest. This person convinced enough other board members to fire her. That group then proceeded to slash the budget. Some of the staff will leave out of loyalty to Jill and disgust with the board. Others will leave because their positions were cut. Many board members will likely resign. A good number of Jill's initiatives, especially the efforts to open dialogue with African churches, were scrapped. It seems the whole purpose of the organization was gutted.

Bob did not know why this person had a vendetta against Jill. So what I say next is pure speculation. MFSA has been on the vanguard of progressive causes within the denomination and has been for over 100 years. I get the impression that this person is actually a hard conservative who infiltrated the board to eliminate a progressive voice. And yes, there are organizations who would be delighted in such a fate. One of them is the Institute for Religion and Democracy (which should be named Religion Without Democracy) who have been attacking the progressive side of several of the big denominations. By "attacking" I mean completely silencing their competition, not just out-maneuvering progressives on important votes. I repeat that I don't know whether this is true and I don't know if IRD is involved.

Bob says Jill will land on her feet and is looking around for what she might do next. However, she will not go back to Washington to pack up her apartment and will instead rely on friends to do that for her.

This story does have a personal component. I've gotten to know Jill and her work over the last year as she attended the DRUM First Sunday services. It was partly through her stories of hope about what she and MFSA had accomplished and were planning to do that convinced me to go to General Conference so that I might witness the historic elimination of the gay prohibitions in the UMC.

Essayist Terrence Heath discusses the rise and fall of a Conservative talking head. Within the essay Heath discusses the funding of the Conservative propaganda machine. Have some talent describing the Conservative point of view? If good enough for notice, the Right will groom you and prepare you for the national stage. There is a huge investment (the term Heath uses) in media companies, think-tanks, advocacy programs, university programs, college newspapers, and more. A talented wordsmith could get a good job for life. The Left has very little that can compare -- we just haven't invested in it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Midnight ride

The Methodist Federation for Social Action (as I told my friend and debate partner, these are the good guys) board meeting is in town. I'm not on the board. I volunteered with the head of the local chapter of MFSA to be of service as needed.

That service came last night in doing an airport run. The plane was to land about 11:40 pm. I monitored it online and it actually landed at close to midnight. I got to the airport at 12:15 and drove the young woman to a home 30 miles to the north, arriving there at 1:15. I was home by 2:00 and lights out by 3:00. I slept in this morning.

The board began its meeting about 8:00 this morning at Central UMC Church in downtown Detroit. My guest didn't get much sleep so she was powered by coffee during the day. I was invited (by the local host) to join them for dinner tonight. I got to the church around 4:30, partly to observe some of the discussion at the meeting.

When I arrived the full board was not in session because there was a private meeting by the executive committee. One board member wanted to oust the executive director though most everyone else thought she was doing a wonderful job. I hear that discussion will resume tomorrow morning at 7:30. I won't be there.

But soon the whole board reconvened. Much to my surprise the young woman I gave the ride to was chairing the meeting. Yeah, there were the usual personnel reports (who should we ask to join? -- no they didn't look at me), and finance reports. But there were a few interesting things before dinner.

MFSA was a lead organization in the coalition at General Conference last May to prod the denomination to be more inclusive. Preparations for 2016 are already underway. This time the question isn't whether to put up a tent for the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle, but only where to put it. Already new coalition member organizations are being added.

The Communications Associate talked about the great things happening with Facebook and Twitter and that the website needs an overhaul. Here is an article he wrote for that website in response to the Todd Akin mess last August. He goes out to various district and regional conferences and talks to people about starting local chapters -- even in the South. He gives tours of the facilities in Washington DC. and talks to students, many of whom are future seminarians. In one recent tour the young man gushed, "You're a group that's actually for reproductive rights and gay inclusion?!"

One guy, whose title is Cross-Cultural Coordinator, talked about his recent trip to the Philippines and his plans for a trip to Africa. The United Methodist Church isn't in every African country. It depends whether the country had missionaries from England or America (or whether they allowed missionaries at all). So the West Africa region represents congregations in only four countries. And the cultural differences in West Africa are different from East Africa and from Central Africa. He is leading the effort to get MFSA chapters started there. He'll go in with plans to talk about 9 of the 10 topics MFSA is involved in and he's sure he'll get questions about the 10th -- that being homosexuality.

Today is Spirit Day, in which gays and allies were asked to wear purple as a sign of support for gay teens, especially bullied teens. So I wore my purple shirt today. It took a moment to notice most of the board was wearing something purple, even if it was only purple stripes in the socks or a grape "Faygo" (Detroit beverage company) shirt. Both prez. candidates were asked to wear purple today. I haven't heard about Romney. I didn't see a photo of Obama but did see he put a purple background on the White House logo on his Twitter feed.

Dinner was served in the Swords into Plowshares gallery space that is adjacent to Central Church. They exhibit artwork having to do with peace and social justice issues. At the moment they have a quilt show and several of the quilts are quite delightful. One quilting group asked each of their members to draw around her own hand on a piece of fabric and then cut out the hand profile. The quilt is covered in these colorful hands.

The local leader called a Middle Eastern restaurant to confirm the dinner order. The owner replied, "I don't have an order from you. I don't think I can get anything ready in an hour." So our leader called a pizza company. The restaurant owner showed up with food anyway. We had both. I had wondered how it is a Middle Eastern Restaurant also served pizza. It was all good.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Time for some color

It is most definitely autumn here in Michigan. The weather has been too chilly or too rainy for bicycle treks to see pretty trees. But it was fabulous yesterday afternoon (sunny and 65) so I headed out. That was in spite of having a midterm exam to prepare (which eventually did get done in time).

Trees seriously started turning color at the beginning of the month, which seemed like three weeks early. But even now, some trees are just beginning to change.

Though I didn't take my camera out on that bike ride, I did snap a few in my yard. It's time to share the color. First up is the dogwood tree at the front corner of my house.

Next is the huge flame bush in my back yard. I can see part of it from my desk chair so I've been watching the color develop.

The nearby smoke bush is turning a pretty color.

The setting sun caught my neighbor's tree (I think it is an aspen) creating a dramatic image.

Well prepared to exercise democracy

My friend and debate partner, because of his age, doesn't need to give a reason to get an absentee ballot in Michigan. I'm not there yet, so will go to my local polling place. My friend now has his ballot and was a bit surprised at the length. Both he and I knew about the state proposals (there are six this year), but didn't know about the five Wayne County proposals. He is glad he has time to research them (and send me what he found).

That reminds me I should mention the site Publius. Give it your name and city and it searches the voting rolls so that it can show you a sample ballot. In each race it also shows a link to the candidate's website and party site, and (at least in Michigan) a link to the Secretary of State record of the candidate's campaign committee.

On my sample ballot: President, US Senator, US Rep, state Rep, state Board of Ed. and several university trustees, various county officials, judges for state Supreme Court, Circuit Court, Court of Appeals (who are these people?), and Probate Court, state proposals, and county proposals. I suspect it isn't complete because I see signs for school board elections and those candidates aren't listed.

Advice from my friend: when going to the polling place, take lunch.

More important than feeding the poor

A coalition of Catholic organizations with the name Equally Blessed support marriage equality. Towards that end they have documented the $6.3 million the Catholic based Knights of Columbus have spent on anti-marriage initiatives since 2005. Another $9.6 million went to educational programs promoting one man--one woman marriage.

At the same time the Human Rights Campaign released how much of the anti-gay money in the four marriage equality battles came from Catholic sources. In Minnesota and Maryland those sources brought in over 3/4 of the money raised. In Washington and Maine, those source brought in over half.

Freedom to Marry created a succinct graphic that shows how that money could have been better spent, such as providing nearly 5.9 million meals for the poor.

Economic gambling

I've been reading Newsweek magazine for more than 30 years, since shortly after I graduated from college. It is usually on my kitchen table so that I can read it during meals and while snacking. Lately I've been finishing off an issue in about 3 days (possible since I'm semi-retired).

But Newsweek has announced today that the Dec. 31 issue will be the last one printed. After that date content will only be online. That has left me with some questions. Do I want to sit in front of my computer to read it? That's an issue because it is now what I read when I'm not in front of my screen. What happens to the remaining 20 months of my subscription? Is it worth buying an in-home wi-fi transmitter so I can read it at my table on my netbook computer?

The radio program Marketplace did an interview with Jeff Jarvis, who promotes digital media. He's sorry about the job losses, but not at all disappointed to see the print version disappear. Besides, he says, the print version has had some pretty lame covers lately.

While I'm writing about Newsweek, a couple articles from the latest issue:

Sidney Blumenthal has a featured article about President Lincoln. He describes the national hero as a consummate politician, willing to do serious horse-trading for the highest ideals. First goal of 1864 was to get reelected. Since the North wasn't doing well at the time that didn't look likely. But Lincoln knew if he wasn't elected again the next administration would recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation. He did all the necessary politicking to keep his job.

Second goal was to pass the 13th Amendment, the one that abolished slavery. The list of political favors was long, including dangling political appointments in front of opposition lawmakers. In one case, Lincoln kept a vacant federal judgeship open saying the appointment could be influenced by a supporter of the Amendment.

Blumenthal's conclusion is that playing politics is not, by itself, dirty. It depends on what one is playing politics for. And the abolition of slavery is a pretty good reason.

Once the 13th Amendment was approved, Lincoln gave a speech promoting the 14th, which would make former slaves into fellow citizens. John Wilkes Booth was in that audience and couldn't stand that idea.

David Sessions wrote about how the Christian Right's push into politics has turned off the younger generations and has contributed to a drop in church membership and participation. Some leaders are now saying that politicizing the Gospel was a big mistake.

David Stockman was budget director under Prez. Reagan. He went on to do leveraged buy-outs (LBO) at Blackstone and then on to run his own finance company. His knowledge of LBOs allowed him to write the book The Great Deformation: How Crony Capitalism Corrupts Free Markets and Democracy. Alas, it won't be published until well after the election. Part of the book is Romney's dealings while head of Bain Capital. Stockman's report lists the details of a few of those deals. Since Romney touts his leadership at Bain as a qualification for the presidency, it is important to take a close look.

Part of Stockman's story is that while Romney led Bain, the country was experiencing Alan Greenspan's bubble economy (which crashed the first time with tech stocks in 1999 as Romney was leaving Bain to rescue the Salt Lake City Olympic Games -- great timing). The policies of that time encouraged what Romney did at Bain.
The lesson is that LBOs are just another legal (and risky) way for speculators to make money, but they are dangerous because when they fail, they leave needless economic disruption and job losses in their wake. That’s why LBOs would be rare in an honest free market—it’s only cheap debt, interest deductions, and ludicrously low capital-gains taxes that artificially fuel them.

The larger point is that Romney’s personal experience in the nation’s financial casinos is no mark against his character or competence. I’ve made money and lost it and know what it is like to be judged. But that experience doesn’t translate into answers on the great public issues before the nation, either. The Romney campaign’s feckless narrative that private equity generates real economic efficiency and societal wealth is dead wrong.
In the deals Stockman details, it is amazing how little money Romney and his partners invest (though it is still in the millions) and how much they reap from the deals. One deal involved the companies Wesley-Jessen and Schering-Plough. A $6 million investment yielded $300 million four years later. A big reason for the 50 times return was a great deal of creative lying when preparing the companies to sell.

Stockman concludes by saying:
In short, this is a record about a dangerous form of leveraged gambling that has been enabled by the failed central banking and taxing policies of the state. That it should be offered as evidence that Mitt Romney is a deeply experienced capitalist entrepreneur and job creator is surely a testament to the financial deformations of our times.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My self-interest is, of course, the same as yours

Chrystia Freeland has written the book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. She was interviewed by Steve Inskeep on NPR this morning. Much of the interview was about the attitudes Freeland heard as she talked to the super rich. Such things as: How can someone possibly retire on anything less than $10 million?

Many of these super rich voted for Obama and now feel betrayed. A big reason is Obama is now talking about and disputing the idea that the more dollars one has the more virtuous one is. They feel that comment emotionally as a personal threat.

Freeland's worry (which seems to be on display over the last 30 years) is that the rich will use their money to rig the system to benefit themselves.
"You don't do this in a kind of chortling, smoking your cigar, conspiratorial thinking way," she says. "You do it by persuading yourself that what is in your own personal self-interest is in the interests of everybody else. So you persuade yourself that, actually, government services, things like spending on education, which is what created that social mobility in the first place, need to be cut so that the deficit will shrink, so that your tax bill doesn't go up.
I also read the first chapter of the book, which is in the NPR site. Some ideas it explores:

Charity is good. It boosts the ego of the giver and gives points in ethics. But discussion of inequality isn't good because it raises the idea all that wealth may be illegitimate.

We all don't like to talk about income inequality because it implies global capitalism wasn't supposed to work this way. The shift from the idea that capitalism increases the middle class to America of the 1% is so recent, our beliefs in how capitalism is supposed to work haven't caught up with reality.

Even so, capitalism is the best economic system we've developed so far (like democracy is the best political system) in spite of its flaws. We need people with money. So we need to understand people with money. That's why the book was written.

Muppets take Washington

While viewing the first presidential debate a couple weeks ago two men in different parts of the country came up with the same idea. If Romney wants to get rid of PBS and Big Bird, it is time for a Million Muppet March in Washington. Once the two men found each other they decided to work together. The march will be November 3, just a few days before the election. Take your puppets.

We lost another one

I posted an article in my brother blog about a seminary student who found he could not serve the United Methodist Church.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Stories of love

Back in 2007 Jerry Sanders, GOP Mayor of San Diego, scheduled a press conference in which he was to veto a declaration by the city council in favor of gay marriage that was before the state Supremes. But Sanders surprised everyone by coming out forcefully for gay marriage, significantly changing the debate.

At the time everyone assumed his lesbian daughter Lisa had a long discussion with him the night before. Not quite.

According to Nicole Murray Ramirez, writer for the San Diego *LGBT Weekly*, he had been asked by Sanders to set up a meeting with leading gay people the night before the veto so Sanders could explain his position personally. That was important because so many had helped him get elected. During that meeting Sanders heard every one talk about their loves and their families. It was those stories that changed his mind.

Gays should marry like decent people

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin asks the question: What does "conservative" mean? Does it mean a set of political positions? Does it mean a way of thinking to preserve a particular way of life? Which of these is more conservative: The Republican playboy who invests in risky schemes or the progressive Democrat with a wife, children, college fund, mortgage, and retirement savings?

Kincaid asks these questions because so many Republicans believe preserving a way of life and a particular set of political positions are the same thing. That leads to many in conservative regions concluding that if one doesn't believe the same political principles one can't possibly be working towards preservation of a way of life. Gays can't possibly be for the "right to marry, raise kids, live in a white picket fence neighborhood, volunteer for the local boy scout troop, and march in the Halloween Parade" (a big controversy in Anoka, Minn. at the moment). Gays only want marriage to destroy it from the inside. It must be true because people with strong (political) conservative credentials, who "obviously" are for tradition and family, say so.

Which is why it is so important for a bona fide conservative to spell out the conservative reason for gay marriage. He speaks their language, complete with appropriate allusions and dog whistles.

Kincaid brings all this up now because the latest person to speak the conservative reason for gay marriage is Ken Melman. He's famous for the 2004 Bush strategy of putting a slew of marriage protection amendments to help Bush keep his job. Melmen later came out as gay (I believe after Bush left office) and is working to make amends.

When this message eventually wins them over we'll hear conservatives rant about how gay guys should find a good man, get married, and raise a family like decent people.

Commenter Ray adds that unless one speaks the conservative language, many conservatives simply don't hear the message. And a conservative speaker is the only one who can point out what ideas aren't conservative. Too many Fundie religious leaders believe their religious views alone give them conservative cred and are surprised to learn their views are "actually more closely associated with liberalism’s tendency to nanny the country by force of law."

Friday, October 12, 2012

Walking in another's shoes

Timothy Kurek grew up in Nashville believing that homosexuality is as sin and gay people should be converted. Then a dear friend sought comfort from him because she's lesbian and her parents threw her out of the house. As she cried on his shoulder he realized he didn't want to comfort her, he wanted to convert her.

Soon after that he embarked on challenging year-long adventure. He pretended to be gay. That included "coming out" to his parents (who thought cancer would be easier to face), his friends (95% of them dumped him), and going to gay bars. He told the truth to only three people -- his closest friend, a "more liberal" aunt who could listen in to what the family was saying, and a gay friend who posed as his boyfriend when visiting bars.

Result: Kurek's personal homophobia is gone and his mother is an ally. And he wrote a book about that year, The Cross in the Closet. It was released yesterday on National Coming Out Day.

This link is to an article on ABCNews. At the top of the article is an image. If you don't immediately click on "Autostart Off" the image will turn into a video and that will start with a commercial you can't turn off. You've been warned. The video itself is of Kurek telling how he came to write the book and is rather nice. It's 4 minutes.

Also as a part of National Coming Out Day 26 members of the US House added their portraits to the NoH8 campaign. That's in addition to the 11 members who lent their support earlier in the year. They're not just from Calif. and states with gay marriage. Alas, none from Michigan. And none from the GOP.

A Cub Scout pack in Beverly, Mass. has declared they will welcome any boy or adult regardless of sexual orientation. The pack's committee unanimously rejected the national Boy Scouts of America policy that excludes gay leaders.

The ILGA, International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association has put out a map of the state of gay rights around the world. The colors range from death penalty to marriage recognition.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wall Street v. Sesame Street

Big Bird's time in the campaign spotlight continues.

Obama's campaign came out with an ad saying Romney will go after our enemies, not on Wall Street, but on Sesame Street. PBS was not amused and asked that the ad be pulled. However, it is still on YouTube.

Jon Stewart has a grand time with the conservative view that Sesame Street is indoctrinating our kids with progressive values. He even has some puppets to explain things to us.

Stay or leave?

My dad sent me a link to a letter by A.W. Martin, a progressive pastor in the United Methodist Church from Arkansas. He labels himself a progressive and laments the deep divide in the denomination over homosexuality. He doesn't see a way out of the conflict any time soon.

Alas, he doesn't mention the possibility of the American branch of the church restructuring its governance so it can decide its own response to important questions without being weighed down by the African branch. Instead, he suggests it is probably time for departure, of whole congregations joining another denomination or forming a new denomination.

Many of the comments in response say essentially, "Bye. Don't let the door hit your backside on the way out."

I talked to a gay United Methodist friend about this. His response was essentially, "We're staying. They can leave." We want to keep the honorable United Methodist name. They can call themselves something else.

That left me wondering if we keep the name are we stuck with the conservative Africans?

Independent Supreme Court

In last Sunday's Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson explains more about the Michigan Supreme Court elections. I already know the candidates are nominated by the parties (even though they are listed on the ballot in the "non-partisan" section) and have to schmooze to get that nomination.

Dickerson says that is only the beginning. The actual campaign is financed and run by the parties. By "run" he means this:
The parties decide how many TV spots and direct mailings there'll be, where and when the ads run, and what they'll say.
Now add huge amounts of undocumented money to the mix.
Every election cycle, candidates complain that their campaigns are being promoted, or their opponents vilified, in ads they have never seen that are financed by people they don't know.

Sometimes, I think they're lying. Sometimes, I suspect they're telling the truth. I haven't decided which possibility is scarier.
Which means Justices of the Supreme Court of Michigan completely owe their job to the party.

At least through the first eight year term.

Then the Michigan constitution says a justice can simply tell the Secretary of State they are seeking reelection. When they do, they're on the ballot complete with designation of "incumbent" which gives them a 250,000 vote base. If they wanted to they could run independent of the party and be an obvious independent justice.

The Free Press also listed its endorsements for the Supremes. They like two of my choices, but select Brian Zahra over Shelia Johnson.
Zahra's command of the legal and managerial issues confronting the court far outstrips that of his Democratic opponent, Southfield District Judge Shelia Johnson.
The Free Press staff insists Zahra "has been more than an GOP apparatchik" and thus deserves our vote.

But with the GOP controlling his campaign (I've even seen billboards), he's already too much of a GOP apparatchik.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Lots of people willing to help

Busy day on Saturday. I met two women from my church in the parking lot at 8:00 am. to head to the big United Methodist Church in the New Center area of Detroit. There we joined the Hands 4 Detroit event put on by the Detroit Renaissance District of the UMC. There's a lot of need in Detroit, but there are also a lot of people willing to help if provided an organizational framework. I've seen a billboard and a newspaper article about the event and heard there were radio and TV reports of the event.

A week before the event there were about 100 volunteers signed up through the event's website. Organizers felt they would do well to get 250 workers.

Two days before they shut down online registration at 750. Another 200 showed up without registering, including one who heard about it on the radio that morning and caught a bus to the church. Another came from Ohio because she felt the excitement and wanted to see how we did it. There were another 50 volunteers at the church guiding parking, doing registration, handing out shirts, organizing lunch, and doing all the other behind-the-scenes tasks. Yup, that's a total of a thousand.

I was on a painting team. A young woman had bought a 1911 vintage house about a mile of the church. She was feeling stressed out with the extensive renovation work the place required. Thirty of us helped her with the painting, even though it seemed she wasn't quite ready for us -- I painted the bathroom and one wall still had a big hole in it. Even so, the place looked a lot better when we left.

Volunteers went to 20 sites around the city. Some stayed at the church to box up donated food to send out to area food pantries. Volunteers brought 17,700 pounds of food with them. Others went to other UM churches in the city for repair and clean-up work. Some helped in a community garden. The two women from my church were at an abandoned home doing what they could to clean up the site. The neighbors thanked them for the little bit they did.

All the teams returned to the church for lunch and a celebration service, then heading home. Yeah, that meant most of us worked only a couple hours.

The event did pretty well for having only two months to prepare and being overwhelmed with volunteers. Yeah, there were a few problems, such as the owner of the house where I painted expected 20 helpers, not 30 and another paint project expected 20 and got 4. I suspect some volunteers got the two confused and joined the wrong one. The date for next year has already been set and I'm sure the event will run a lot more smoothly.

After an afternoon at home I was back to Detroit's Midtown area for the DlectriCity event. It was held after sunset and featured some 30 outdoor art exhibits having something to do with light.

I thought a couple were interesting, including one projected on the side of the Science Museum. The artist created a series of paintings of whales and the images faded from one to the next. From the size of the entrance doors in this image you can how big the projections are. The head of the whale is to the left.

Alas, most of the displays had a Wow, look at what I can do with light! or a modern art aspect that didn't connect with me. Besides, it was cold. I lasted a couple hours and didn't see all the exhibits.

Many of the events did connect with little kids. I got down there in time to see the bike parade. All the bikes had lights wrapped around them. I'm sure the kids (some as young as 5) had a blast riding their bikes down Woodward with several hundred others (including many adults) while traffic was stopped for them.

Gone wild

The golf course behind my house went out of business 18 months ago. The grounds haven't been maintained during that time and I don't think the city is mowing it anymore. Today I saw two deer on the (now overgrown) access drive just beyond my fence. Here is one of them. I'm pleased she posed for a photo. I shot the image through my glass door.

Ruffled feathers

Some videos to share with you:

Romney said he would cut funding for PBS even though he likes Big Bird. In response Big Bird was a guest on Saturday Night Live. It's a couple minutes and quite tame for SNL (though I don't watch the show), meaning Big Bird doesn't do anything strange.

John Corvino, the Gay Moralist and Ethics Professor at Wayne State University, has been debating Maggie Gallagher of National Organization for Marriage. They even wrote a book together each making their case and critiquing the other's. Now Corvino has created a series of nine videos outlining, from the moral viewpoint, why gay marriage is a great idea. He even does it with humor (stick around after the brief credits). The whole series is about a half hour. This link is set up for autoplay so the whole series will play automatically.

Sally Field received an Ally for Equality award from the Human Rights Campaign at their annual dinner. She is introduced by her son Sam, who is gay. The intro and thank-you are together 15 minutes.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Blocking abundant life

Yeah, the presidential campaign debates were last night. I didn't watch. My tolerance for GOP nonsense is too low to listen to that much of it, even if it is followed by (some) rebuttal. Since I didn't watch, I'm not going to talk about it. On to something else.

I've now read four books by Bishop John Shelby Spong. He is quite critical of the way Christianity is currently practiced, and that includes a good chunk of its doctrine. I won't get into the far reaches of Spong's critique. One aspect is enough for now. This is from Spong's book Jesus for the Non-Religious.

The Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 10 says "I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly." An abundant life sounds similar to my ideas that the goal of following Jesus is to enhance mental health and build community. Spong goes on to say that an abundant life should be the way we measure what and how well the church is doing. Christianity's pervasive prejudices -- against those of another race, gender, or orientation -- do not lead to abundant living.

That leads to interesting questions. Why have those prejudices been supported by the church for over a millennia? (I have a little quibble with Spong. From my reading of the book Saving Paradise I'm not convinced that these prejudices were around during the first millennia of Christianity. But that doesn't lessen Spong's argument).

Second question: Why didn't society deal with these prejudices until the church's grip on society began to lessen? (Perhaps an unanswerable chicken/egg corollary: Did the church's lessening influence allow society to forge ahead with women's rights and civil rights? Or did society's work in these issues lead to the lessening of the church's influence?)

Related question: Why does Christianity seem to require a perpetual victim?

Spong documents the church's ongoing push for prejudice: attacks on gays, attacks on women's reproductive rights, hostility when the church is challenged, the replacement of slavery with segregation and the violence when Jim Crow was threatened, the glee and enthusiasm that appears when describing the fate of the unbeliever, and attacks on Jews in the past and Muslims today. Spong writes:
Prejudice operates through an overt act of human projection, which involves three steps. First we designate the victim. Next, onto that victim we project all our inadequacies, hurts, and fears. Third, we reject the one onto whom these human feelings are now projected. We are thus not to be blamed for these things, the victim is.
It is the fault of Jews that prevented Christianity from dominating the world. Blacks caused the Civil War. Communism caused the Great Depression. Women caused the decline in family values. Gays caused the decline in marriage.

All that prejudice is the result of a great deal of anger among Christians. And a great deal of self-hatred. No, this is not good mental health. Or abundant life.

Spong identifies the source of this anger and hatred. Examples from hymn lyrics: "Saved a wretch like me." "Who was the guilty? … I crucified thee." From the Mass: "I am not worthy to gather up the crumbs" from the divine table. And in every service a prayer of confession listing things we did and shouldn't have and things we didn't and should have. We're told repeatedly how hopeless, wretched, inadequate, and evil we are. Guilt seems to be an essential ingredient. Christians believe that God's punishment is deserved and that punishment is turned aside only because God allowed his son to be killed.

That makes God an ogre, Jesus a victim, and Christians grateful and thus dependent. That is neither maturity nor abundant life.

We need prejudice to counteract all that self-hate. Project it all on someone else and banish it. We need it because we've been beaten down by our religion and grasp at anything to help us feel better. We're so beaten we need to at least feel superior to someone else. I've noticed this intense desire for some to proclaim their superiority to others (a lot of this blog is in response to that).

If the Christian God sees humans as "broken, fallen, sinful, inadequate, weak, dependent, and childlike" won't a man, trying to emulate God, feel justified in viewing women as "broken, fallen, sinful, inadequate, weak, dependent, and childlike"?

The way out, suggests Spong, is to look at Jesus differently. Instead of saying he came for salvation, emphasize instead his work to eliminate tribal boundaries, religious boundaries, and prejudices and stereotypes. Spong devotes a chapter to each of those.

All those boundaries and prejudices are a desperate need of security. That need of security lessens when we emphasize abundant life, when we work to develop mental health for all and community that includes all.

I’m pretty sure my friend and debate partner would not describe me as perpetually angry, full of self-hatred, and seething with prejudices. So obviously the comments above about Christianity do not apply to every local congregation or perhaps even every denomination. It may depend on how much the liturgy emphasizes all I mentioned above. In the case of my own congregation, yes, we have a confession during the service, but it is rather mild. Yes, we occasionally sing some of the songs about being a "wretch." But the sermon is not focused on how evil we are. However…

Hearing the way my congregation bickers and seeing the hatred towards gays (and women) at General Conference, perhaps that little exposure in my church and denomination does have its effect.

Monday, October 1, 2012

He's the problem, not us

I heard a comment today on NPR (and, alas, can't find the link) that many GOP pundits are getting ready to explain a Romney defeat this way: Yeah, he lost, but he's not really one of us (those Mormon and Massachusetts things). Our economic plan really will work and Americans really like it. They just don't like Mitt.

That is what is called a True Believer. The problem isn't what I believe in. The problem is you didn't believe it hard enough.

Avoiding the mess

Yesterday I told you the Sunday Free Press had an article about Michigan's Emergency Manager Law. Today I was able to read it. The article featured reasons for keeping the law and for scrapping it. Here is a summary with my own paraphrase of the positions.

For: The first EM law was signed in 1990. But it was too messy. The EM had to actually (gasp!) *negotiate* with existing city gov't and unions. The process took too long and the result might be something that still didn't solve the long-term problem. The new law (the one under referendum in Nov.) gives the EM sweeping powers to git 'er done.

Against: Replacing the city gov't with someone who has sweeping powers is anti-democracy. State assistance should come in the form of consultation and education of city council and mayor.

Against: The new law allows the EM to tear up union contracts and impose new ones. It is designed to fix the problem on the backs of public employees. Holders of municipal bonds have no incentive to negotiate easier repayment plans because they see employees will have to make enough concessions that bond payments will be made in full. Bond holders are exempt from the pain. Bankruptcy would be better because it would force debt restructuring.

For: But bankruptcy court might also tear up union contracts and impose new ones. Besides, the core of the problem is almost always unsustainable employee pay, benefit, and pension costs (yeah, I know the GOP would have no problem telling Detroit cops, currently on 12 hour shifts, they're being greedy). The problem isn't too much debt.

During breaks in that long bus ride to Charlotte a month ago the situation in Detroit was explained this way. The big banks, through their sub-prime mortgage mess and the resulting foreclosure mess, sucked all the wealth out of Detroit's housing. Even if a resident didn't lose the home it lost a great deal of value. Property tax revenue to the city crashed along with housing value. Now the banks are sucking the value out of city gov't, forcing the layoff of teachers, police, firefighters, and street light repair personnel.

I'll be voting against the new EM law.

If the current EM law is repealed there is a dilemma. Does the 1990 law come back in force? Or did the new law repeal the old one, meaning there would be no EM law? Courts will decide.